Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Champions League: Real Madrid beat Chelsea in extra time to reach semi-finals

Champions League 2
Chelsea's English midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek (L) vies with Real Madrid's German midfielder Toni Kroos during the UEFA Champions League quarter final second leg football match between Real Madrid CF and Chelsea FC at the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid on April 12, 2022. AFP

MADRID, April 13: Luka Modric turned the tie and Karim Benzema settled it as Real Madrid held off a sensational fightback from Chelsea on Tuesday to win an enthralling Champions League quarter-final 5-4 on aggregate.
Chelsea wiped out Madrid’s 3-1 lead from the first leg in stunning fashion at the Santiago Bernabeu as Mason Mount, Antonio Rudiger and Timo Werner put Europe’s reigning champions on the brink of a incredible victory.
But the 36-year-old Modric intervened with another moment of genius to add to the very best of his glittering career, a sumptuous pass with the outside of his right foot setting up Rodrygo to volley in and sending a nerve-shredding contest into extra time.
After scoring a hat-trick at Stamford Bridge, Benzema then stepped forward to claim the winner, the Frenchman capitalising on a Rudiger slip to head in, a 3-2 defeat enough to see Madrid into the semi-finals.
At the final whistle, Modric and Benzema dropped to the floor, their combined 70 years of age belying another two vintage contributions that have dragged Real Madrid in sight of a 14th European Cup.
They will face either Manchester City or rivals Atletico Madrid in the last four.
After being thrashed by Brentford and then outplayed by Madrid in the first leg last week, Chelsea came in rejuvenated after putting six past Southampton in the Premier League last weekend.
Thomas Tuchel said on Monday they would need a “fantastic script” to pull off this comeback and they certainly delivered that, their only failing an inability to prevent Modric and Benzema doing what they have done so many times before.
Mount’s goal in the 15th minute set the tone, Madrid immediately consumed by tension and Chelsea given early hope.
Mateo Kovacic had been key in the build-up but it was Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s quick pass into Werner that caught Madrid cold, the German steering the ball with his knee into the path of Mount, who advanced and fired past Courtois.
For 20 minutes, Chelsea were dictating, Madrid pegged back. Reece James was doing a fine job restricting Vinicius Junior, blocking Madrid’s escape route.
Benzema, Modric and Toni Kroos tried to wrestle back control but Chelsea’s authority was even more pronounced early in the second half and within minutes they had a second, Rudiger rising high at the back post to head in from a corner.
With their lead gone, Madrid briefly exerted, the crowd coming into the contest. But Chelsea were celebrating a third when Marcos Alonso pivoted round Dani Carvajal’s sliding tackle and slammed into the top corner.
Madrid looked beaten, the stadium dead, but the referee was waiting. VAR spotted Alonso had controlled with his hand and when the decision was reversed, the Bernabeu erupted.
With 28 minutes left, the tie was back in the balance. Madrid had renewed impetus and almost scored, Benzema’s looping header at the back post dropping onto the crossbar.
But it was brief, Chelsea coming again in the 73rd minute as Kovacic slid through Werner, who coolly slalomed past two sliding Madrid defenders and sent a deflected finish dribbling into the corner.
A disappointed Kroos was taken off before a wild contest turned again on the moment of magic from Modric. With the outside of his foot, Modric stroked a 30-yard pass over to the right of the penalty area where Rodrygo, on as a substitute, volleyed in.
Chelsea looked the more likely to nick a late winner and nearly did, Kai Havertz nodding across the six-yard box but Christian Pulisic shot over.
Into extra time and Madrid found another gear, Vinicius finally finding space to tear into. His floated cross might have been easily cleared by Rudiger but the defender slipped, giving Benzema just enough space to guide his header in.
Chelsea, so composed all night, suddenly looked ragged. Eduardo Camavinga fired over. Courtois Cruyff-turned around Havertz.
But they threw everything at Madrid in the final minutes, Courtois saving from Werner before Fede Valverde had to block a shot from Thiago Silva. Edouard Mendy went up for a final corner but it was cleared, Madrid holding on.
Bayern pick up the pieces after ‘bitter’ Champions League defeat
There were 70,000 at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday, but you could have heard a pin drop among home Bayern Munich fans when Villarreal equalised with two minutes left to dump the Germans out of the Champions League.
When they were paired with Spanish side Villarreal in last month’s quarter-finals draw, Bayern sports director Hasan Salihamidzic chuckled gleefully, “It’s very manageable”.
Yet it was Villarreal coach Unai Emery left leaping with joy on the sidelines in Munich after Samuel Chukwueze chipped in with two minutes left to snatch a 1-1 second leg draw and seal a 2-1 aggregate win.
The Villarreal squad celebrated in front of their delirious travelling fans, while stunned Bayern supporters trudged home leaving their team to process a shock elimination.
The Germans dominated for long stretches of Tuesday’s home leg and were rewarded when Robert Lewandowski gave them a second-half lead before Villarreal converted their only clear chance.
Thomas Mueller, usually a bubbly chatterbox, struggled to find the words to sum up the disappointment.
“It’s extreme,” he admitted, having blown a golden chance after heading agonisingly wide with 19 minutes left.
“Maybe we must blame ourselves for needing to get one more goal.”
Chukwueze’s equaliser put the over-joyed Spaniards in the Champions League semi-finals for the first time in 16 years.
“It’s very bitter. The semi-finals are always the minimum goal for Bayern Munich,” said head coach Julian Nagelsmann.
“The first leg was the key,” where Bayern lost 1-0. “We didn’t play well there and that’s where we lost the tie.”
The 34-year-old was blunt – “it’s not good enough” – when asked to rate his first season in charge.
He refused to blame their exit on uncertainty within the squad with key stars waiting to be offered extended contracts.
Mueller, Lewandowski, Serge Gnabry and club captain Manuel Neuer are out of contract in 2023.
The lack of urgency among Bayern’s bosses to secure their commitment sparked speculation of a clean out.
It also fuelled rumours that Lewandowski, who chalked up his 13th Champions League goal this season, could leave with Barcelona touted as one possible destination.
Bowing out in last year’s quarter-finals to French giants Paris Saint Germain was unfortunate, but failing to beat Villarreal, presently seventh in the Spanish league, is well short of their expectations.
Missing out on the semi-finals costs Bayern a bonus of 12.5 million euros ($13.5 million), but hurts their pride as much as their finances.
They are poised to claim a tenth straight Bundesliga title, holding a nine-point lead with five games left, but it’s a consolation prize by Bayern’s lofty standards.
It is the only silverware they can win having exited the German Cup last October after a freak 5-0 mauling at Moenchengladbach.
Bayern paid RB Leipzig 20 million euros to sign Nagelsmann, one of Germany’s brightest coaching talents.
Yet the 34-year-old knows Tuesday’s Champions League exit means his future at the club is not guaranteed.
“I don’t know what’s in store for me, besides we have Bielefeld to worry about next in the league,” he said glumly.
“I’m not afraid, there are worse things.”
His boss, Bayern CEO Oliver Khan, wore a steely expression while insisting “we won’t burst into tears, we’ll attack again next year in the Champions League”. (AFP)